From a style-of-play standpoint, the Buffalo Sabres are inching closer to being more consistent in the way they feel they need to play in order to win games.
Tight defense, solid goaltending, not letting up on the effort and timely goals are key components to to a grind-it-out mentality that Buffalo hopes will translate into points in the standings.
Wednesday night at First Niagara Center, the Sabres fell to the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 in the shootout, but for the most part, felt good about their effort.
“That was one of our better games. When you play a game like that and get an outcome like that, we can’t hang our heads,” defenseman Tyler Myers said. “These last couple games here, we’ve started to play the way we need to to be competitive. Tonight was a stepping stone. It was a good game overall for us.”
The Sabres are now 2-2-2 in their past six games and have had back-to-back games go to the shootout. They came away with a victory in the skill competition on Sunday against Detroit, but they weren’t as fortunate against Montreal.
Sabres captain Brian Gionta scored against his former club in the first round of the shootout, but Alex Galchenyuk and P-A Parenteau responded in the bottom of the first and third rounds, respectively, to win it for Montreal. Parentau has three game-deciding shootout goals already this year.
Michal Neuvirth made 31 saves through 65 minutes. He was in net for Buffalo’s 3-2 victory on Sunday as well.
“It was a great game from both sides. Last game, we got a little lucky in the shootout and today, unfortunately, they did,” he said. “Some nights you win on one-goals against, sometimes you don’t. Obviously it’s tough to swallow, but we’ve got to forget about this game and keep moving forward.”
Parentau and Drew Stafford were the goal scorers in regulation. Canadiens goaltender Dustin Tokarski made 31 saves through regulation and overtime.
IN THE CLUTCH
Neuvirth made a game-saving, post-to-post left pad stop on a one-timer from Max Pacioretty with 1:25 to play in overtime. Andrey Markov moved the puck from the left point cross-ice to Paciortetty inside the faceoff dot to Neuvirth’s left. Neuvirth was able to anticipate the play and slide over in time to make the save.
“It was a good read by me and I felt I saved it, but I didn’t see the puck,” Neuvirth said. “It was a good job by the defense, they cleared the puck right away.”
There was no scoring through two periods, but once the puck dropped for the third, ink started to fill out the top of the scoresheet.
Parentau knocked home a rebound off Neuvirth’s pad for the game’s first goal 19 seconds into the third.
With the way the season has started for the Sabres, it would have been easy for them to go through the remainder of the game with limited chances. However, Stafford saw the bench come to life after the goal, saying they were energized and focused to get that one back.
“It felt as though we were playing a pretty solid game up until that point. They were able to get the first one but give credit to the bench. We stayed up,” he said. “We didn’t do the whole, ‘Woe is me’ act.”
The Sabres responded in almost no time with a power-play goal at the 3:13 mark. Drew Stafford, unmarked in front of the net, put in a loose puck past Dustin Tokarski. With Tyler Ennis down low and Myers crashing the net, the puck squirted loose through a tangle of bodies in front of the net and right onto Stafford’s stick at the top of the crease.
“We stayed with it and we were able to cash in on a lucky break with both the Tylers hooking up with a lucky bounce and me just being in the right place at the right time,” Stafford said.
Both of Stafford’s goals this season have come with the man advantage.
Tyler Ennis recorded the secondary assist, the 100th helper of his career. He also passed Stu Barnes for 50th in franchise history with 173 points.
EXTRA TIME CHANCES
In the past two overtime games they’ve played in, Buffalo spent a majority of the extra period in its own zone. Being shorthanded was a big reason why and the Sabres were able to stay out of the box and generate quite a few chances 4-on-4. The Sabres had seven shots in overtime Wednesday.
“I thought tonight, we dictated a lot more, finally spent some time in the O-zone,” Myers said. “We got into penalty trouble last overtime, but tonight, guys were playing with confidence. Guys were winning battles, which was huge. We just have to build out.”
A SPECIAL NIGHT COMING UP
The Sabres continue their homestand on Friday at 7 p.m. against the Edmonton Oilers with Hockey Fights Cancer Night. As part of an NHL-wide initiative to raise money and awareness for cancer research, the Sabres will be hosting events throughout the night with the help of local cancer patients and their charitable organizations.
More information can be found here.